Thursday, 3 December 2009

Scandal grows over Russian ‘golden youth’ car crash

The Russian road-racing scandal which has gripped Geneva has thrown the spotlight onto the antics of Russia's so-called "golden youth".
With four young Russian citizens - one identified as the son of a wealthy construction magnate and two others believed to be the sons of flamboyant oligarch Telman Ismailov - apparently roaring through the villages around Lake Geneva at 220 kilometres an hour, the normally sedate Swiss are aghast.
And the imminent court appearance of 22-year-old Zia Babayev, a student at a Geneva university affiliated with Moscow State University, on suspicion of causing an accident which left a 70-year-old motorist severely injured, has also seen sharp criticism of the pampered classes back home in Russia.
Reports that three of the four men involved, students at a Geneva university affiliated with Moscow State University, were whisked out of Switzer­land by private jet in the aftermath of the crash has done little to appease many people furious that youngsters were careering out of control in a Bugatti Veyron, a Lamborghini Murciélago, a Mercedes SLR McLaren and a Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
It is, after all, a story which has everything - fast cars, money, a whiff of corruption and a brush with tragedy, washed down with a hint of booze.
Local paper Tribune de Geneve has reported in detail on the incident since it skidded into view last week, and their latest account questioned how these four students - aged between 20 and 25 - were able to hire high-powered sports cars when the under-30s are usually barred from renting these marques.
Among Russians, NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin has been the most outspoken critic of the high-speed exploits.
Within hours of the story breaking, Rogozin told Vesti 24 TV that the current ‘gilded generation' - the brattish off-spring of wealthy and influential parents - was behaving "like prats".
"Our [countrymen] love anything glamorous, anything expensive and anything shiny," Rogozin said.
"The offspring of our top-ranking bureaucrats and millionaires behave in exactly the same way in Courchevel as those who had the car accident."
The scandal increases the pressure on Telman Ismailov, an Azeri-born oligarch who controlled the Cherkizovsky market in Moscow.
The names of his two sons, Alek and Sarkhan, emerged in the media very quickly - long before the identity of the prime suspect and his father, Mehrazh Babayev of construction firm Version M, became known.
Ismailov reportedly angered the Kremlin by hosting a lavish opening party for his Turkish hotel in the height of the crisis back in May.
That party featured Sharon Stone, Richard Gere and Paris Hilton - as well as Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and his wife, Yelena Baturina.
But his friendship with the mayor couldn't save Cherkizovsky from closure this summer after a long-running investigation into health and safety and trading standards complaints.
Now Ismailov's sons may face an extradition battle if the Swiss authorities decide they were holding an illegal road race.
A spokesman for the Swiss Attorney General confirmed that if there was evidence of the Russians re-enacting a grand prix on the roads between Geneva and Lausanne they would seek to extradite the Ismailovs and an unnamed third driver to face trial.
But he added that it would not be justified for a speeding offence alone.
A lawyer for Babayev claimed that there was no race but added that his client admitted responsibility for the accident.
Jacques Barillion also told the Tribune de Geneve newspaper that media coverage of the incident had given a false impression that his client was receiving preferential treatment.
"The reality is different," he said. "He was questioned immediately by local police and made available for future questioning.
"He never intended to flee and is deeply affected by the consequences of this accident."

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